This is a condition where a person experiences pain or neurological symptoms due to a nerve compression in the neck. Typically the pain radiates from the neck and arm; it may also cause numbness, motor dysfunction especially in the neck and upper areas (extremities).
The Cervical Nerves of the Neck and Upper Extremities
The nerves that supply the muscles of the arms, fingers, hands and shoulders enabling their functioning are the cervical nerve roots, C1 through C8. All of them leave the spine above the right vertebral level apart from C8 which leaves below the C7 vertebra. These nerves are also important for the sensory function of the skin as they carry the sensory fibres which provide sensation.
What Causes Cervical Radiculopathy?
This condition can be caused by anything that irritates or compresses any cervical nerve. Some of the known causes are:
- Cervical Spinal Stenosis-this is a degenerative process of the spine and it can lead to tightening the space for the spinal canal. Mostly it occurs in people who are over 60.
- Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease-a disc becomes flatter and stiffer after the cervical spine degenerates. It then becomes difficult to support the spine. It is the main cause of cervical radiculopathy for those in their 50’s.
- Cervical Herniated Disc-the material found inside the cervical disk might leak and cause an inflammation to the adjacent nerve. Mostly affects people in their 20’s and 30’s.
The main symptoms are pain, numbness or weakness in the regions that are supplied by the nerve that is affected. The pain might come and go but develop gradually. The pain also varies from patient to patient. Some might experience a dull pain, severe pain, a pin tingling and numbness.
There are different types of this condition because the symptoms are determined by which nerve has been affected. Some of the types include:
- C5 radiculopathy-it is associated with pain in the upper arms and shoulders mostly around the shoulder blades.
- C6 radiculopathy-causes pain in the arm, wrists, thumb and some fingers.
- C7 radiculopathy-this is the major cause of pain from the neck to the hand. At times the pain is experienced in the triceps and the middle finger.
- C8 radiculopathy-it is associated with pain from the neck to the hand and at times weakness in a patient’s grip or numbness.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The doctor carries out an assessment on the patient before treatment. A spurling’s test might also be performed. If the symptoms do not respond to the treatment there are some advanced diagnostic techniques that can be used such as: imaging studies through a Magnetic Resonance Imaging or Electro-diagnostic testing.
There are many ways of treating this condition, some of which are surgical and non-surgical.
Physiotherapy-at Turramurra Sports and Spinal physio, a therapist will treat your cervical problem using very many techniques such as joint mobilisation, deep tissue releases, traction and some exercises. They reduce the inflammation of the nerve root and improve the functioning of the muscles supplied by that nerve.